August 2 is rapidly approaching.
Yes, that is the day. The day that thousands of young men both long for and dread, love and despise. That is the day that high school football practice can finally begin in the state of South Carolina. Other states across the nation will most likely begin on or around that date. Except maybe in Texas, where high school football never really ends.
As a matter of fact, high school football never really ends anywhere these days. With spring practice, 7-on-7, offseason workouts and private training facilities, football is a year-round enterprise.
But Aug. 2 is THE date. That's a few steps away from the real deal: The pads, the hitting, the "pop" that you love to hear when you're on the giving end and hate when you're the recipient. It's only a week or so until the jamborees start, and a few weeks away from The Show. Kickoff is so close you can smell it.
And that is exactly what I would tell every high school football player to do. Smell the grass. Feel the pain. Enjoy every single minute of it, because it will all be gone before you can turn your head.
Football is unlike any other sport. It's not necessarily better (well, it IS, but that's my personal opinion); but it is different. You can't sign up for a rec league at the Y. There are no church leagues. Once you take of the red-and-black, silver-and-blue, black-and-gold or whatever color you wear, you can't ever put it on again.
And there is nothing that you can do again that will ever come close.
I want to encourage every high school player who is starting this week, whether you're first time or scout team, to enjoy every minute of this. I never worked out enough, never got in good enough shape, and always dreaded that first day of practice.
But I would say to you: Don't. Stop dreading and enjoy. No matter what your conditioning is or how hot it is or how much you play or don't play, savor the flavor now.
Listen to the crowd, no matter how big or how small. Appreciate the cheerleaders (but with small glances, not long looks, fellas!). Play with all your focus and energy when you're in the game, and cheer your teammates in the same way when you are not.
Don't just leave the field on game day knowing that you left it all out there. Leave the field every day knowing that you left it all out there. Even if you don't play a down in a real game, learn to love and appreciate the game itself, including the work that leads up to kickoff.
Oh, I'm sure that coaches and parents and washed up ex-football players all over the nation are giving this same speech right now. It will probably go in one ear and out the other, just as it did for me at 17. I doubt that many high school players will read this, much less understand. (We certainly didn't at that age).
But perhaps one or two will. Perhaps they will take the time to smell the fresh-cut field and feel the morning dew as they stretch it out for one more day of practice. Just maybe they will appreciate the game now, in whatever capacity they play it, and let their time playing football become a great memory rather than a source of nostalgic regret.
Treasure it. Appreciate it. Love it. And let all of the good things about it burn into your brain.
High school football will remind you that you cannot get back the moments of youth that you do not always fully appreciate. Enjoy where you are right now, while working to get where you want to be (a lesson that applies to all of us).
Whether you're a starter or a practice player or even a bench warmer, love football for all that it is, gentlemen. Learn from it, and grow from it. Because it will be behind you far sooner than you think.
Once it's gone, you can't get it back, and there is nothing else that will ever compare to it. So learn to love it where you are right now.